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Local News

Franklin School Student Victim in Big-Rig Crash That Killed 3 in Home

Third-grader and his parents die after driver loses control of gravel truck at Highway 154 and State Street

A Franklin School third-grader was among the victims in Tuesday’s early morning big-rig crash at Highway 154 and Outer State Street.

Jaciel Tellez
Jaciel Tellez

The victims — Leon Leonel, 23; his wife, Lorena Guadalupe-Tellez Pacheco, whose age was not immediately known; and their son, Jaciel Tellez, 8 — were killed when a truck hauling gravel lost control of its brakes while traveling down Highway 154 from San Marcos Pass and plowed into their house at 4119 State St., near the Hope Ranch Inn.

The driver, identified as Joaquin Garcia Morales, 51, of Oxnard, suffered minor injuries in the crash, which occurred just before 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Barbara Keyani, spokeswoman with the Santa Barbara School District, said Jaciel was a third-grader at Franklin School, 1111 E. Mason St. He had just started school Monday.

“Jaciel was a wonderful boy with a beautiful smile and caring personality,” Franklin Principal Casie Killgore said Tuesday. “I have a vivid memory of Jaciel as a kindergartner with a smile larger than his body. He was so smart and was eager to learn. He had a question about everything and always wanted to know more.

“He was very loving toward his mother and would give her a hug every day as she walked him to class. The family will be missed by the entire Franklin community. Jaciel was one of us.”

Leti Simentales taught Jaciel in second grade last year.

“Jaciel was a very friendly child with a great smile and sense of humor,” she said. “He loved working on computers and enjoyed building with Legos. He was also very creative when it came to writing.

“His mom was very involved in Jaciel’s education and often helped in the classroom. She came on all field trips. Jaciel and his mom had a very special bond.”

Keyani said the district’s school psychologists and grief counselors from the Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County will be on campus Wednesday morning to assist students and parents.

California Highway Patrol spokesman Jeremy Wayland said Morales, the owner and operator of the truck, was hauling gravel in two trailers leased from a Santa Ynez Valley rock quarry. The load was bound for a Santa Paula construction site.

According to Wayland, Morales said he experienced problems with his braking system as he left the quarry. He brought the tractor trailer to a stop before entering Highway 154 and believed he had fixed the braking problem. After passing over San Marcos Pass, authorities said Morales again experienced problems with the brake system. Unable to regain control of the brakes, he unsuccessfully attempted to stop the tractor trailer by downshifting and using the hand brake.

Several witnesses saw billowing smoke coming from the truck’s wheels as the vehicle went through the Calle Real and State Street intersections, traveling about 45 mph.

Morales’ truck then veered into the parking lot area of the Hope Ranch Inn but was unable to stop as it crashed into three cars parked in front of the single-story cottage residence, at the end of a driveway between the motel and Palapa restaurant.

Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. David Sadecki said dispatchers received the first 9-1-1 call at 6:53 a.m. Tuesday. Inside the demolished house, county firefighters located the three victims, all of whom had died of their injuries.

Morales suffered minor injuries, including back pain and facial lacerations.

Authorities said an investigation will attempt to determine whether the brake problems were a result of mechanical or driver error. Alcohol is not believed to be a factor, Wayland said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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